Computer graphics pioneer Carl Machover dies at 84

Machover was a noted speaker, writer, mentor, and a tireless advocate of the transformative power of computer graphics.

Carl Machover, a computer graphics pioneer and cheerful evangelist of the transformative power of computer graphics, died March 6, 2012 at his home in White Plains, NY, after a prolonged illness. He was 84.

Carl Machover

Trained as an electrical engineer right after World War II, Machover began his career in an era when computers occupied entire rooms while lacking even basic visual displays. “Computer graphics are the cure for no known disease,” he liked to joke, alluding to his uphill battle to convince companies that better graphical interfaces would deliver value.

A sought-after public speaker, he combined his engineering knowledge with business savvy to champion full-color, real-time graphics displays for everything from complex scientific data and architectural design to computer-animated movies—a vision he lived to see turn into reality many times over.

Machover went to work at Norden Laboratories Corporation in White Plains, NY, and published the primer Basics of Gyroscopes (1960). He then moved to Skiatron Electronics & Television Corporation where he helped form a subcontractor RMS Associates to build and market CRT character generators. RMS later changed its name to Information Displays, Inc. (IDI) and created the stand-alone computer-aided design (CAD) platform the IDIIOM (IDI Input-Output Machine). IDIIOM had its own operating system based on the Varian 620-I computer, a DEC PDP competitor.

In 1976, he left IDI to form Machover Associates Corp (MAC), a computer graphics consultancy which became known internationally for providing a broad range of management, engineering, marketing, and financial services to computer graphics users, suppliers, researchers and investors.

A tireless evangelist for computer graphics, Machover served as President of Art & Science Collaborations, Inc. (ASCI), the National Computer Graphics Association, the Society for Information Displays, and Computer Graphics Pioneers. He also worked on the editorial boards of many industry publications, wrote and lectured world-wide on all aspects of computer graphics, and was guest editor of special computer graphics art issues of Computer and Graphics and the IEEE Computer Graphics and Applications. He received the North Carolina State University’s Orthogonal Award, the NCGA Vanguard Award, and was inducted into the FAMLI Computer Graphics Hall of Fame. He was appointed an Adjunct Professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, his alma mater.

Carl Machover was one of the people behind IDIIOM, an early hardware-based CAD platform.

Machover authored the C4 Handbook, CAD/CAM Handbook and Computer Graphics Handbook, and was co-executive producer for a 90-minute film documentary, The Story of Computer Graphics, for SIGGRAPH in 1998, when he also served as History Chair. He advocated for women in computer graphics and for computer graphic arts. While professing to be unable to carry a tune, he was a constant fixture at the concerts and lectures given by his wife, a noted piano teacher.

The website of the European Association of Computer Graphics reflects the esteem in which Machover was held by his colleagues around the world: “A man of charm, wit, integrity and authority. His words carry weight; the weight that comes from a lifetime of experience and reflection. He has an eye for detail and illustration through the carefully selected example. He is also a man of vision and foresight. His lectures are always a careful balance of reflection on the past, experience of the present and vision for the future.”

Machover inspired deep and lasting affection among his many admirers. Andries van Dam, Professor of Computer Science at Brown University, fondly recalled “his infectious optimism and goodness, his raucous laughter and great raconteurship, his incredible gift for cartooning that he could have turned into a profession,” and marveled at the Machovers’ 61-year marriage as a “role model of utter devotion and abiding love.”

The vast personal collection of papers amassed by Machover is now housed at the Charles Babbage Institute at the University of Minnesota. The Institute notes: “This is a large and unique collection of rich archival materials providing unparalleled documentation on the emergence of computer graphics.”

Machover is survived by his wife Wilma; son Tod; two daughters, Julie Anderson and Linda Samuels; and seven grandchildren,  Hana and Noa Machover, Ryan, Allegra and Halle Anderson, and Allison and Cassie Samuels.

JPR remembers Carl Machover

Let us add our personal memories. Carl Machover was an astoundingly generous man who wrote for Cadence Magazine when Kathleen Maher was editor. He patiently helped educate Kathleen about computer graphics and he contributed articles and was gracious about getting paid late when the magazine was a little short of its budget. He didn’t seem to think twice about donating his time and his talent. He and Jon Peddie were colleagues and Jon spoke at Machover’s conferences. Carl Machover helped Jon get his first book published by introducing him to his publishers at McGraw Hill. Jon says, “I can’t remember who called whom first, Carl was always there as part of my Siggraph and NCGA experiences.”

Computer Graphics just isn’t the same industry without Carl Machover and we will miss him.